A woman sitting at her desk, speaking on the telephone.

Today’s professionals have many business communication tools available to them.

Today’s professionals have a greater range of business communication tools at their fingertips than ever before. For some people, the sheer volume of options can be dizzying and perhaps even overwhelming. However, these tools offer choice and flexibility in communicating a message. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.”

When initiating a conversation, the business communication tools themselves can influence the way a message is interpreted. That dynamic can determine whether the result is effective collaboration or awkwardly crossed signals. With that in mind, here are four types of modern communication technology that businesses are using today and how they can best be used to convey a message:

1. Real-Time Interactions

It’s common for employees to ask each other quick questions in real-time throughout the work day using business communication tools such as text messaging or video conferencing through a unified communications platform. When doing so, it’s always a good idea to consider the communications medium with which the recipient is most comfortable. After all, as anyone who has worked in an office knows, some people are avid texters and others prefer to go old school with a reliable phone call. It’s important to factor in the urgency of the conversation — i.e., how rapidly a response is needed and how quickly the recipient is likely to reply using that channel — as well as whether it concerns a fairly typical subject or something that is more sensitive and prone to misunderstanding.

For more immediate and quick exchanges connoting a sense of immediacy with a casual atmosphere, texting and instant messaging are a great way to go. Although text conversations can sometimes appear terse or overly casual to some, they can be enhanced with emojis and images to lighten the mood — a well-timed smiley face or cute cat gif can do wonders for morale. However, nuanced conversations that involve a sensitive or complex message might be best suited to a video chat in which both participants have the benefit of visual cues and even physical objects they can use as props to better understand one another. This is especially valuable for check-ins involving teleworking staff.

2. Social Media

In the social sphere, sending and receiving a message is immediate and intimate. People typically experience these interactions on their smartphones, which they rarely part from and tend to view as an extension of themselves. And when people have a positive interaction on social media, they are delighted. Yet for all the intimacy and the opportunity to make a meaningful connection with a customer, social media is a very public place to have a conversation. It’s a venue in which reputation and authenticity matter, especially when giving a referral or serving as a brand advocate. Accordingly, people take close note not only of the message a brand sends, but how it is conveyed.

On the plus side, social media is versatile. Businesses can use text, photos, videos, and links to communicate their messages, which they can then amplify through the use of hashtags and paid advertising. However, tone and timing are everything in the social world, which moves at the speed of light. Examples abound in which businesses have been roasted for tweets that were either poorly timed, tone deaf, or viewed as overly opportunistic. As Mashable reported, Cinnabon faced considerable backlash after it tweeted a tribute to Carrie Fisher that many found to be in poor taste. Companies wanting to avoid such an embarrassing social media fail should have a good sense of the cultural norms on social media and know their audience well before getting too familiar online.

3. Cloud Communication Integrations

Customers expect an excellent customer service experience from the brands with which they do business — no matter which part of the business they may be engaging with at the moment or which communications channel they may be using. They also have little patience for waiting long periods to get the answer they seek. Any of us can relate. Who hasn’t rolled their eyes a little upon hearing yet another customer service representative complain that their computer is running slowly?

To circumvent problems like these, companies are finding great value in synchronizing their cloud business applications for greater operational efficiency so that all relevant information can be accessed within a single window. Most commonly, they are integrating their business applications with their business phone service. This lends employees greater confidence, since they have instant access to the data they need without having to clumsily switch between applications. That professionalism comes across positively in exchanges with customers.

4. Contextual Communications

Businesses can deepen their communications reach by further leveraging the power of the cloud. As Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) builds momentum, developers now have access to an array of efficient communication APIs. As a result, they’re building real-time communication features such as voice, video, and text messaging into their applications without the need for a complicated infrastructure to support them. For example, a retailer can now make it possible for a customer to call or message customer service directly from within the app rather than having to initiate that exchange separately. The transaction becomes more intuitive and convenient, ensuring a positive customer experience. And it can also provide contextual information about the customer, such as what is in their shopping cart or which tickets they’ve previously logged, to aid in the speedy resolution of their request.

There are many ways for businesses to have meaningful and impactful conversations, both among their employees and with customers. Companies may find it worthwhile to investigate how today’s business communication solutions can increase internal efficiency and enhance customer engagement.

Contact Vonage Business to learn more about how cloud-based communications can aid your company.

About Rose de Fremery

Rose de Fremery is a New York-based writer and technologist. She is the former Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly, the world’s first and only print magazine devoted to the social media revolution. Rose currently blogs about business IT topics including VoIP, UC, CRM, business innovation, and telework for Ziff-Davis as well as HP’s Tektonika program, HP Innovation Journal, HP Channel, Intel, and Vonage’s content marketing program.

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A smartphone, tablet, and pair of glasses on a desk.

Statistics indicate that remote worker productivity is much higher than many realize.

When considering whether to allow employees to work from home, business owners often wonder whether remote worker productivity will be sufficient to advance the company’s goals. With no supervisor physically present to ensure the work gets done, how can the company really be sure that its remote workers will be focused on the task at hand? Will the temptation be too great for them to end up just playing Xbox all day?

With telecommuting on the rise — Gallup recently estimated that 37 percent of American workers have now worked from home — some business leaders may be concerned about how to best address this growing trend while ensuring productivity doesn’t take a hit. Fortunately, statistical data indicates that remote workers can often be incredibly productive and satisfied at work, sometimes even more so than their in-office counterparts. Companies may be able to reap the benefits that work-from-home arrangements deliver for the four following reasons:

1. Fewer Interruptions Mean Greater Focus

According to a recent survey from TINYpulse, 91 percent of teleworkers report they are more productive when working remotely. With fewer interruptions throughout the workday, they can settle into a state of sustained concentration and work more effectively on their projects. Compare this with the traditional office setting where, according to The Washington Post, each office worker is interrupted or switches tasks every three minutes and then requires an additional 23 minutes to regain their focus. This de facto interruption culture can negatively affect the morale of office workers, who might mutter into their cups of coffee about how they can’t get a moment’s peace. This is not so with teleworkers, however, who may enjoy a greater ability to concentrate on their work and tend to make the most of it.

Additionally, a flexible working environment and increased autonomy help workers optimize their productivity. Teleworkers may be able to arrange their tasks in a way they find most effective, cycling through their to-do lists with ease. Although it is true that telecommuting newbies working from home must contend with distractions in their environment and learn the ropes of working well in that setting, by and large, they are able to stay on top of their work and meet deadlines.

2. Remote Workers Understand the Importance of Collaboration

Perhaps partly because they are not located in an office where collaboration opportunities are automatically woven into the workday, many employees who work from home understand the importance of proactive collaboration and accountability as active team members. Remote workers say that they regularly stay in touch with their supervisors, if on a somewhat less-frequent basis. A generous 34 percent of respondents to the TINYpulse survey report that they are in touch with their supervisor once a week, while 31 percent say that they check in once per day and 21 percent note that they check in multiple times per day. This actually lines up pretty well with how frequently most remote workers say they would prefer to be in touch, so it appears they may be satisfied with this arrangement.

Remote worker productivity is typically highest in cases when both the supervisor and employee have a clear, shared understanding of what needs to get done and fewer check-ins are needed to keep the work moving. Interestingly, 92 percent of teleworkers say they are happy with the way they receive feedback from their supervisors, so it seems both remote workers and their bosses are communicating effectively in this setting and likely use a variety of tools to do so, from video conferencing to email.

3. Remote Workers Feel More Valued at Work

When employees have the ability to work from home, they may be able to more comfortably balance their professional and personal obligations. For example, parents might find it easier to get their children to doctor’s appointments and caregivers may be better able to tend to older relatives. When employees experience greater independence and improved work-life balance, they typically report higher levels of employee satisfaction.

According to the TINYpulse survey, teleworkers say they are happier at work compared to their in-office colleagues. They frequently also feel more valued at work. Increased job satisfaction contributes to greater employee retention in the long run. Employers, who know well that it costs more to hire and train a new employee than it does to retain an existing one, should find this metric attractive when considering their ability to keep top talent and preserve their budget.

4. Inclement Weather Isn’t an Obstacle

Companies offering teleworking programs may be able to stay productive in the event of inclement weather, since nothing prevents employees from taking care of their work safely from home, even if a storm is raging outside or the public transit system is experiencing issues. This reduces liability for the company while simultaneously creating opportunities for productivity that simply did not exist before. Yes, teleworkers are going to have to stay home and actually work on those TPS reports instead of running outside to pelt their friends with snowballs during a major snowstorm. However, those same employees will likely appreciate not having to experience the frustration (not to mention wasted time) involved with a difficult or treacherous commute. Instead of bundling up and trudging out into the elements, they can simply make a cup of hot cocoa, sit down, and get to work.

Teleworking may be a new frontier for some companies, but it’s one that may offer significant promise in the form of greater productivity, increased job satisfaction, and more proactive communication among staff. Company decision-makers who have not yet explored the benefits of allowing their employees to work from home might find that it is not only worth their while, but also takes their business to a whole new level.

Find out how Vonage Business can work with your organization to boost company-wide productivity.

About Rose de Fremery

Rose de Fremery is a New York-based writer and technologist. She is the former Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly, the world’s first and only print magazine devoted to the social media revolution. Rose currently blogs about business IT topics including VoIP, UC, CRM, business innovation, and telework for Ziff-Davis as well as HP’s Tektonika program, HP Innovation Journal, HP Channel, Intel, and Vonage’s content marketing program.

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A woman speaking on her mobile phone outside.

Remote workers can enjoy increased productivity through virtual communication.

Teleworking is experiencing a boom as businesses and their employees discover the benefits of flexible work-from-home arrangements. Teleworking improves productivity through virtual communication, aids in recruiting talent (particularly among millennial job seekers), reduces overhead costs associated with office space, and can even be environmentally friendly.

According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 68 percent of workers expect their jobs will soon be performed remotely rather than in a traditional office. Many businesses already offer such arrangements or are preparing to do so. However, in order to maximize teleworking’s benefits, businesses must make sure they have a smart policy in place. Here are five tips for doing just that:

1. Clearly Explain the Rules

When allowing staff to work from home, it’s essential to have clear rules. Not all roles are suited for teleworking, so businesses must first understand what teleworking employees want out of their teleworking arrangements, define which positions are eligible, and decide how often staff will be permitted to take advantage of this option. It may be wise to start by offering limited teleworking days and then expanding on them once it becomes clear that teleworking is going well. Employees can sometimes become envious when they learn someone else has a more generous teleworking arrangement than they do, so businesses should get out in front of that potential problem by clearly explaining the rationale behind any differences in teleworking privileges that may be granted to the staff.

Employees and their managers must also have mutually agreed-upon expectations for the teleworking staff member’s availability under this arrangement. Any team members with whom the teleworking employee collaborates must know how and when they can establish virtual communication with them — whether via a video chat, an instant messaging session, or a phone call — and when they can expect a response. As with any major initiative, businesses should define the goals their teleworking policy intends to achieve and track metrics related to those goals, such as productivity, reduced absenteeism, or employee satisfaction. Teleworking staff should also have clear individual performance targets that are tracked and reviewed on a regular basis.

2. Actively Foster Collaboration

Teleworking can boost workplace collaboration, but doing so requires thoughtful leadership and the right technology for the job. Employees who work from home sometimes feel left out of important business developments, wishing they were as “in the know” as their colleagues. This could lead to a fear that their contributions to the business might be overlooked, setting them back professionally. Remote staff may also feel that they cannot enjoy the same productivity as their office-based colleagues if they do not have access to similar technology tools at home.

Businesses must make sure teleworking employees feel like they are a part of the life of the company. This requires thinking carefully about how to best bring teleworkers into staff meetings and team events. For example, video conferencing solutions may be a good option to help teleworkers participate. If important company announcements are coming down the pike, it’s vital to ensure teleworkers are informed via the appropriate channels — whether that’s in private conversations with their managers or through a companywide email. Businesses can go a long way toward keeping their remote staff engaged by equipping them with teleworking and mobility solutions that help them stay plugged in to what’s going on at the company.

3. Ensure Proper Oversight

As much as businesses might like teleworking to be a “set it and forget it” type of arrangement, it’s usually a work in progress — especially in the beginning. When teleworking doesn’t go well, it’s often due to a lack of sufficient oversight, frequently because there has been little to no training for managers on how to monitor their remotely located staff.

Contrary to what you might assume, virtual communication can introduce challenges for some managers and their employees, since it becomes harder to understand the nuance of what a person is trying to say. Managers in particular need practical guidance on how to supervise their teleworking staff and how remote team members can best collaborate with their office-based colleagues. With proactive oversight, gradual adjustments, and the right technology features, a business can ensure its teleworking policy is successful.

4. Understand Teleworkers’ Unique Needs

Teleworkers are a unique class unto themselves when it comes to supporting both managerial and technical needs. Business processes that hum along seamlessly when everyone is physically collocated in the office may not work quite as well when staff is working remotely, requiring tweaks or adjustments. Remote workers may also face barriers to productivity that their colleagues in the office don’t encounter.

Check in with teleworking staff periodically, particularly after they have just begun working from home, to make sure they have everything they need to work efficiently and feel like a valued member of the team. This feedback can be helpful, particularly when you’re keeping an eye out for technology solutions that facilitate effortless virtual group collaboration in online meetings or video conferences with a single tap or click — even across devices, so colleagues can remain in touch on the go.

5. Consider How Teleworking Ties Into Other Policies

When businesses let staff work from home, they often find that teleworking ties into many other aspects of IT and operations, including BYOD policies, mobile device management, procedures on closing the office in the event of severe weather, and business continuity. IT managers should review how teleworking intersects with other aspects of how business gets done at the company and determine whether it poses any opportunities or challenges that must be addressed.

With a thoughtful approach to a teleworking policy, both businesses and their employees can enjoy the best of what it has to offer.

Interested in learning more? Find out how Vonage Business can help your organization make the most of flexible work arrangements.

About Rose de Fremery

Rose de Fremery is a New York-based writer and technologist. She is the former Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly, the world’s first and only print magazine devoted to the social media revolution. Rose currently blogs about business IT topics including VoIP, UC, CRM, business innovation, and telework for Ziff-Davis as well as HP’s Tektonika program, HP Innovation Journal, HP Channel, Intel, and Vonage’s content marketing program.

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We’ve all seen the “BBC Dad” video by now. A distinguished professor is discussing the finer points of South Korea’s political upheaval over video teleconferencing. His adorable kids charge in, while their mom desperately attempts to minimize the interruption and their dad quietly tries to compose himself. The viral interview serves as an unexpectedly hilarious clip and a wonderful reminder of the potential downfalls of remote work.

With that in mind, it’s a good opportunity to remind ourselves of what working remotely should ideally look like. Here are some best practices to follow in an effort to avoid those embarrassing moments — as cute as they may be.

Dress the Part

Imagine this scenario: You wake up from an incredibly restful night of sleep after hitting the snooze button a few times, and you’re immediately faced with the day’s first dilemma as a telecommuter. What to wear? As comfy as your PJs may be, traipsing around in clothes you wouldn’t even wear to the grocery store may have some unforeseen consequences.

An obvious shortcoming rears its ugly head when video teleconferencing enters the picture. Nothing breaks your concentration quite like the mad rush to find suitable clothes as your phone rings and you remember that 2 p.m. design session you had scheduled. Entering the call sweaty and out of breath doesn’t help the situation, either.

Yet there are more subtle reasons why making yourself presentable during remote hours is a good idea. First, dressing to impress instills an innate sense of professionalism, which helps persuade our minds that it’s time to work, not play.

Second, making a habit of actually getting ready for work rather than simply rolling out of bed and into your home office establishes beneficial routines. If you’re already waking up early to dress the part, chances are you’ll also take the time to hop in the shower or maybe read the morning news. Doing so gets your productivity humming before you even clock in.

Find Your Fortress of Solitude

Traditional offices do an admirable job of helping you separate the distractions of your personal life from your work obligations. Really, outside of social media and the occasional phone call from your significant other, there’s not much standing between you and a productive day at the office. Not so much so with a remote office.

Much like we saw in the “BBC Dad” video, distractions can come all too easily when working remotely. It stands to reason, then, that establishing an area of your home for interruption-free work is a solid idea. Fortunately, the execution is simple and straightforward. Just like the dad in the video, find a quiet room that’s separated from any shenanigans happening elsewhere in your home. Unlike the dad in the video, it might not be a bad idea to lock the door during televised meetings.

Pro tip: Keep things like coffee and snacks handy in your fortress to avoid leaving the distraction-free zone.

Stay Connected

Finally, if you want to find success in a remote environment, connectivity is key. This means keeping a reliable connection to office resources no matter where you’re working. Ideally, you should be available to work and communicate with the same ease as you would in an office setting, even if you’re sitting at your local coffee shop.

Taking advantage of cloud-based solutions is one of the best ways to ensure this high level of mobile connectivity. For example, on-demand, virtual video conferencing solutions allow you to connect any mobile device to your organization’s existing teleconferencing resources. As such, you’ll be able to reliably connect to meetings whether you’re on the road, in the air, or in your fortress of solitude at home. Similar platforms exist for your workflow processes and give you the freedom to work productively anywhere in the world when used in combination with mobile communications platforms.

In the end, working remotely boils down to preparation and willpower. Simply exercise some self-control, equip your mobile office accordingly, and you’ll be able to weather any distraction — charming children or otherwise.

Contact Vonage Business to learn more about how cloud-based communications can aid your company.

About Joe Hewitson

With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it.

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A woman holding a mobile phone is speaking to a man holding a cup of coffee, standing outside.

By working virtually, employees can enjoy more flexibility, and companies can improve retention.

If you don’t have a policy for employees working virtually (at least some of the time), it may be time to reconsider.

For instance, say your best employee comes into your office to tell you that her spouse got a job on the West Coast and her last day is going to be in three weeks. Or, say that after a two-month search for a new employee with extremely specific skills — and a slew of bad interviews in the process — you find the absolute perfect employee. However, he lives in Alaska and has no desire to commute every day by bush plane. Or, perhaps you get a call tonight from an employee with a long commute who wants to turn in his notice to spend more time with his small kids.

It used to be that the only real option in these cases was losing the employee. This meant lower retention rates and increased costs for hiring and onboarding, which can be significant. ZaneBenefits reported that a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that the cost of replacing an employee averages out to six to nine months’ worth of the employee’s salary. Then, add in increased recruiting costs, as well as the opportunity costs for not having the best of the best on your staff.

However, technology has made working virtually an attractive concept for both employees and employers because it grants a whole new level of flexibility. Employees not within driving distance to the office can continue to work for the company, and local employees who need more flexibility can continue working remotely. Technology not only makes it possible, but also makes it an efficient choice in terms of productivity, to the point that you may not even realize the employee isn’t in the office.

Keeping in Touch

One of the biggest concerns with working virtually is communication. Can the team collaborate? Will it be hard to reach the employee? Unified communications allows your team to stay in touch with the remote employee regardless of location and device. This technology seamlessly forwards calls to the team member’s device, whether it’s to a home landline or a mobile device. You can also use the chat feature enabled by this technology to talk in real time as the team works together on projects.

While there is something special about face-to-face communication, it’s still possible to get that experience with body language, tone, and facial expressions, even when the employee is working out of a coffee shop. You can start a video conference call with just a few touches of a button, and everyone can talk in (almost) person. Your remote workers can join team meetings by video as well.

Working Collaboratively

When you think of working remotely, you may immediately be filled with dread at the thought of emailing drafts and crises arising over version control. However, cloud solutions make this a non-issue. Remote workers can access the cloud network just as if they were sitting in the office next door, using all the same version control tools as every in-office worker. And accessing the tools and software needed to perform their job is no longer a hassle, or even an extra expense. By setting up virtual networks, remote employees can log on to their screens and have the exact same setup as their in-office colleagues.

The main reason working from home is becoming more accepted and common these days is that it is a win-win for both the employees and the company. Your employees get the flexibility they need and are much more likely to stay for the long-term. And your company gets or retains access to the right employees, regardless of their mailing address.

Speak to a Vonage Business consultant to learn more about using technology to enable working remotely.

About Jennifer Goforth Gregory

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.

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A man and a woman sitting outside at a coffee shop, using a tablet.

The right technology can make mobile workforce management much simpler and more effective.

At times, managing people can be a real chore. It certainly doesn’t get easier when the only thing connecting your team is a few cables and a couple thousand pixels. Fortunately, the same technology that frees users from cube life also provides some pretty nifty ways to tackle mobile workforce management. After all, a virtual office is still an office.

Workforce Management in a Nutshell

When the topic of workforce management is discussed — virtual or otherwise — two main aspects boil to the surface fairly quickly. The job really comes down to coordinating efforts and equipping your team members with everything they need to succeed. Accomplish that, and the rest is just minutiae. For teleworking employees, however, you’ll need a slightly different strategy. First up: orchestrating a team you can’t see.

Coordinating the efforts of your team is a simple matter of communication. Since you aren’t often going to be physically available to your team members, this requires a certain mastery of technology. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Rather, a certain level of technology is required to master communication in a virtual setting.

Ultimately, the best communication technology is the one you and your team are most comfortable with. Some offices thrive on phone systems, some love text-based chat, while others still prefer visual communication through video conferencing solutions. Either way, it’s imperative to choose the technology that poses the least resistance to your team’s communication.

Tips for Managing with Technology

Whatever piece of communication technology you use — and perhaps you are using several — here are a few key strategies to keep in mind that will help you get the most out of each:

  • Visibility: The technology you choose to communicate and coordinate with your remote team must empower visibility. Something as simple as a “presence” indicator that lets team members know who is available and at what capacity will go a long way toward keeping communication flowing.
  • Tracking: Remote team members can be tough to manage due to the autonomy a few hundred miles provides. To make management easier and encourage productivity, a little tracking goes a long way. Before you break out the ankle bracelets, just know that those same communications platforms likely have time-tracking capabilities as well. Cloud phone systems even provide built-in analytics and reporting, which allow for a real-time and historical record of employee call activity to gauge productivity.
  • Collaboration: Unless you work in an industry where each individual contributes in complete isolation, you’ll need some way to collaborate, be it on documents, communications, ideation, etc. Again, the idea here is to make it as seamless as possible. Look for technologies that tackle collaboration in an inclusive manner while still providing clear ownership and organization.
  • Fun: This one goes back to one of the greatest shortfalls of mobile workforce management. When people rub elbows on a regular basis, they naturally form social bonds. This, called by another name, is culture. While it happens naturally to some extent in a physical office, it takes much more discipline and effort to create the same kind of atmosphere in a virtual environment. Some advice? Give your team members the tools to creatively express themselves, even if it doesn’t directly help productivity. No matter how much you disdain animated .gif images, they may just bring your team closer together.

When all is said and done, managing remote teams doesn’t have to be an exercise in futility. With a well-cultivated crop of supporting technologies, coordinating efforts and equipping your team for success becomes a trivial affair.

Contact Vonage Business to learn more about how cloud-based communications can aid your company.

About Joe Hewitson

With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it.

Linkedin  |  Twitter

A man sitting at a table, using his smartphone.

Becoming a virtual company will help your organization operate more efficiently.

The very concept of a virtual company is a sign of the impressive digital progress achieved by a few brilliant minds — and mountains of R&D investments. This transition from brick-and-mortar spaces has closely followed the related move from tangible goods to digital. Companies that dealt with digital products naturally saw benefits and cost savings by simply digitizing the traditional office environment. Makes sense, right?

While digital products like movie rentals have few, if any, downsides, virtual companies maintain certain legacy components that don’t necessarily thrive in those same digital environments — namely, us pesky humans. Simply put, there are some obvious disconnects that can occur when employees try to work together without physically being together. It’s kind of like trying to maintain a long-distance relationship. There’s a special connection that happens when people collaborate face-to-face that tends to get lost in translation in digital or remote environments.

That being said, you don’t have to break up with your virtual strategy just yet. Here are some helpful tips to get your users over the proverbial hump and into a thriving digital workplace.

Bridging the Gap

Let’s take a quick second to set the record straight on digital communication. Is in-person communication and collaboration a great way to get stuff done? Of course. If it wasn’t, digital communication wouldn’t be trying so hard to emulate it. But that doesn’t mean virtual companies can’t bridge the gap and work just as effectively.

With this in mind, it’s often easy to neglect the fact that digital collaboration affords benefits that traditional methods simply can’t compete with. For example, virtual companies employing digital collaboration platforms may enjoy the fact that their hard work — whether meeting minutes, presentations, or discussions — can be automatically made available to every participant, and even archived for future reference. Subtle features like this streamline the act of collaboration and facilitate enhanced productivity.

Even something as elusive as company culture can be communicated through digital means. Culture, after all, is built by people simply being themselves. With the use of videoconferencing, social collaboration software, and, yes, even emojis, users can let their unique personalities shine through despite miles of physical separation. The key is to make it easy and seamless to communicate just as you would in person.

Is It Really Worth It?

When you really stop and think about it, much of the work that is accomplished in a brick-and-mortar organization is done with the use of digital tools. Be it a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, the modern engine of business relies heavily on the virtual realm. By eschewing the physical limitations of traditional office environments, virtual companies are able to better integrate these digital strategies into the very fiber of their organizations.

Oh, and you may have heard of the cost savings, too. For some organizations — typically those that produce digital goods — much of their office infrastructure is already in the cloud. For these folks, there’s some obvious cost savings by simply eliminating that rent check every month. Others may, however, have a less clear-cut path to the virtual office. Organizations more entrenched in physical infrastructure will need to weigh the potential cost savings of cloud services against their current systems.

Cost savings can be a misleading barometer, too. Moving to agile, cloud-based phone systems, for example, can let users integrate their digital tools of choice with other platforms like a CRM to stay connected to the heartbeat of the company regardless of location. Cheaper? Potentially. More efficient? Almost certainly.

Ultimately, life as a virtual company can be every bit as successful and productive as a company with a brick-and-mortar office. All you need is a bit of cloud ingenuity and a team willing to commit to the mobile lifestyle. Cat memes aside, working in a virtual environment may even be the most efficient way to actually get work done. And hey, if you still can’t shake the need for physical collaboration, just send a “telepresence” drone like the one featured in SiliconBeat.

Find out how Vonage Business can work with your organization to boost virtual collaboration.

About Joe Hewitson

With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it.

Linkedin  |  Twitter

A man in a suit talking on a mobile phone, outside of a restaurant.

Virtual communications can turn your team into a cohesive unit, no matter where members are located.

You know that the secret to being successful as a small business is hiring the absolute best employees you can find. However, the right fit in terms of personality, work style, and strengths may not always be located in your same ZIP code. While small-business owners often have a remote employee or two working for their company, many are taking it to the next level by creating a virtual office using cloud-based technology that supports virtual communications.

This means all employees work out of their home offices — even if they live in the same city as others — and there is no physical office location. One of the biggest benefits is that your small business saves considerable money on rent, furniture, and office supplies. Another is that you can hire the best employee for the position, regardless of location. However, along with the benefits, virtual offices bring some challenges when it comes to communication and collaboration.

Talking with Customers and Co-Workers

Your team gives your customers amazing service if your customers can get in contact with your company. Today’s business communication systems have the technology needed to virtually connect employees and customers, no matter their locations or devices. One of the first decisions you need to make when moving to a virtual office is choosing a business communication system. If that system has a virtual receptionist feature, your customers can dial a single number and then be connected with the right employee for their specific need. This message can be customized and changed very easily.

Remote employees will likely use their personal mobile devices to take business calls, as most people won’t want to carry two phones around. If your communication system has a mobile connect feature, an employee’s phone number can be transferred to whatever device he or she is currently using. And, best of all, the customer won’t know that the employee is talking on a personal device– they’ll only see the business phone number.

Collaboration Technology

As virtual communications become more and more common, you need to figure out the best ways for everyone can work together. You need a simple way for your team to share ideas, files and develop a real team vibe, even if they’re not in the same room. By using a cloud-based file-sharing system, you can make sure that everyone can access important information using whatever devices they’re working from — not to mention wherever their location happens to be.

It’s the inside jokes, the teasing, the drinking of endless cups of coffee, and the late-night brainstorming sessions that create a team, not the mere fact of working together. This is one of the biggest challenges of virtual offices. However, by using chat and video conferencing, your team can create a rapport that will translate into a cohesive group working together to reach a common goal.

Keeping Employees on Task

You may be wondering how you will know that your employees are really working and not watching the latest cat videos on YouTube. However, the same technology that gives your employees plenty of distractions gives you a window into what they’re doing. Through cloud technology, you can reach your employees at any time of day through chat, voice, or video calls. A quick look at your file systems shows you exactly which files each employee accessed at what time and how long they worked on each document. If your goofing-off radar is on high-alert, you can set up call recording so you can make sure employees are actually spending their phone time helping customers, not discussing weekend plans with friends for hours on end.

So, if you’re paying rent but many of your employees work remotely or would prefer to work remotely, take a minute to consider creating a virtual office. Your employees, customers, and bottom line will thank you.

For more information on the technology needed to start a virtual office, contact a Vonage Business representative.

About Jennifer Goforth Gregory

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.

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A woman sits in a home office on a video call.

Make sure to limit visible and audible distractions when using a video conference app.

From “Star Trek” to “The Jetsons” to those wristband holo-communicators the Power Rangers used, popular media has long been infatuated with video conferencing. However, the shows and movies of yesteryear didn’t do a great job exploring the etiquette behind successfully using a video conference app. Mr. Spacely never chided George for using video conferencing to chat with an important sprocket-buying client from a cluttered office, and we never saw Picard using a lint roller on his Starfleet uniform before hailing from the bridge.

Things are a little different in the real world. The rise of video conference apps has brought with it a new set of rules — not to mention spoken and unspoken etiquette — many of which center on the environment you’re calling in from. Whether you primarily call from your desktop or frequently employ a video conferencing app on your phone or tablet, here are a few things to consider as you set up your conferencing area:

Test Your Call Before It’s Important

Your video conferencing hardware and software are easily the most important parts of your calling space. Microphones, cameras, phones, tablets, PCs, and even the video conference app itself are all potential gotchas — you definitely don’t want to have to reschedule a call when your camera fails two minutes before showtime. If you’re setting up a new conferencing area, make sure all the equipment works before the fact. And if you’re not, still make frequent testing part of your routine once a month or so at a minimum and a few days ahead of super-important calls.

Get Your Lighting on Lock

Per Fast Company, overhead lighting is the pits if you’re interested in looking good during video calls. Instead, the site says to follow the (other) rule of threes: two natural light sources behind your camera, to the left and right, then another behind you. If you’re primarily a mobile video caller, this effect may be harder to achieve. Even then, pay attention to how the lighting makes you look by making some test calls and experimenting.

Spouses and Roommates and Kids, Oh My!

Other people — particularly those who might walk through in their pajamas or a T-shirt proclaiming their love of pizza — are just as big a no-no on a video call as they would be in a real office setting. If you’re calling from home, be sure to have a chat with your co-dwellers about the importance of steering clear of your calling area. If you’re at the office, always carry out calls behind a closed door.

Ambient Noise Is the Enemy

Similarly, conversations in the next room or even kids playing quietly are almost certainly audible to your calling partners. The same thing goes for your cubicle mate’s atrocious talk radio and Mike across the office’s inane chatter about what he bought at the grocery store last week — how can one person’s voice carry so darn far? Whatever your ambient noise challenges, make sure you squelch them, or even better, find a place where they’re inaudible.

The Background Is Bigger Than You Think

Is frantically cleaning your calling area a key part of your pre-conference ritual? If so, make sure you give the camera a wide berth. More of the area may be visible than you think, and the last thing you want are piles of papers and assorted boxes cluttering up the edge of your co-worker’s or client’s screen. To repeat, a test call can work wonders here, as can a directed effort to keep clutter fully behind the camera’s eye.

Mind Your Mobile Environment

On the topic of backgrounds people don’t want to see, here are a few more: a crowded bus. Your bedroom, with the (made or unmade) bed directly behind you. Your car, particularly when it’s in motion. In other words, a video conference app can definitely help manage an on-the-go lifestyle, but try to find a suitable environment for your calls all the same.

To some degree, a bland background is preferable when using a video conference app. Even if you don’t want to go full-on boring, make sure there’s nothing too visually grabbing about your background. That trippy wall painting, your beloved mug collection, and other patterned, colorful accouterments can pull your co-callers’ eyes away from you, which can be a real problem in sales, marketing, and other calls where people should be paying attention to you. While they aren’t technically part of the background, the same can be said for excessively flashy jewelry or clothing. In most cases, muted, solid colors are preferable to bright colors or patterns.

Now that you have these tips, you’re ready to make the most of your video conference app.

You’ve got the space — let Vonage Business handle the video conferencing solutions.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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A woman sitting at a desk, talking on her mobile phone.

Customers don’t want to spend a day on hold. How can business communications solutions help?

When it comes to customer service experience, people have some pretty lofty expectations these days. And why not? Living in an age when the world’s collective knowledge, culture, and entertainment are available instantly with the click of a button, should they expect any less?

As these expectations continue to rise, it raises two important questions: What kind of experience are these customers looking for, and how can today’s enterprises leverage business communications solutions to not only meet this expectation, but push the bar even higher?

Universal Truth

Customer satisfaction is somewhat of an enigma. On one hand, everyone is a customer at some point and therefore has the perfect perspective from which to truly understand what people are looking for when it comes to customer experience. On the other hand, no two people have the exact same desires and expectations.

Discouraged? Don’t be. While it’s true that people have very personal preferences when it comes to ideal customer experiences, there are some universal truths you can rely on. For example, what are you more likely to find on an eHarmony profile page, “I love taking long walks on the beach at sunset” or “My greatest joy in life is spending two hours of my Saturday morning on hold with the utility company?”

Sure, this may be an extreme case, but the point is still valid. Exceeding customer service expectations begins with nailing the basic expectations at the core of every experience. Chief among them is communication.

Perhaps a better example is to simply look at the relationships in your own life. Don’t worry, Dr. Phil has no part in this one. Have you ever noticed how much of a direct relationship there is between the health of a given relationship and the level of communication associated with it? Likewise, excellent customer experiences thrive on and, in many ways, depend upon effective communication. After all, customers are defined by their relationship to businesses.

Convenient Communication

If communication is so important to customer satisfaction, then it stands to reason that business communications solutions would be a top priority. Not convinced? Here are a few ways these types of solutions can help your business keep pace with rising customer expectations:

  • Communication Options: If it were the 20th century, having a single option for customer communication would be forgivable. Here in the 21st century, however, there’s really no excuse to limit these options. Different customers expect to communicate in different ways. Be it phone, web chat, video conference, or carrier pigeon, providing flexible means of communication is a great way to meet customer expectations.
  • Keeping It Simple: Giving customers plenty of ways to communicate is great, but not if you sacrifice simplicity. If your customers spend more energy finding the right number for the right department than they would trying to coax Siri into navigating rush-hour traffic, you’re not exceeding expectations. To avoid this, take advantage of a communications system in a more intelligent way, like a virtual receptionist. All forms of communication should get the customer to the right information or person with minimal transfers.
  • Call Queue: Nobody enjoys lines, but everyone expects them. The very fabric of society might even fall apart without the order they create. When it comes to communication, bringing order is crucial. With a call queue, you can tailor the phone experience of each individual customer and better manage large call volumes to avoid falling short of customer expectations.

In the end, modern technology has spoiled the world with unparalleled convenience. Customers expect that same convenience when communicating with your business. Are you prepared to exceed those expectations?

Speak to a Vonage Business consultant to learn more about business communications solutions.

About Joe Hewitson

With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it.

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